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Reason and Faith in the Mind of Benedict XVI

Dr Joe Santamaria, OAM

Towards the end of the year 2006, Pope Benedict XVI delivered several addresses to bishops making their ad limina visits to the Vatican, especially to the Swiss and German delegations. His comments ranged over such issues as the sanctity of human life, modern reproductive technology especially the destruction of human embryos for “altruistic” purposes, marriage and the family, and the hierarchy of human values. In his weekly comment, Sandro Magister, wrote a commentary on his blogsite (www.www.Chiesa).In this presentation, Magister noted that these issues all claim to be moral values that are challenged in our everyday lives.

At first sight, we are conscious that peace, justice, the care of nature, concern about suffering, all carry moral overtones. Christ Himself addressed many of these issues in the Beatitudes and in His parables and the Church has frequently spoken about them in public statements. Christ regularly engaged his listeners where He found them but He never conveyed that their lifestyle and values were virtuous if they acted in “good conscience.”

We need to remember that in the history of mankind, the moral law has passed through three periods of development. From the time of Adam and Eve, Man first abided by his intuitive knowledge of the Natural Law and his conversations with God. When Adam and Eve disobeyed, original sin entered the world. Man became subject to sin and then occurred the second phase of moral development – the Decalogue or the Mosaic Law. Finally we entered the third phase with the advent of Christ Who came not to destroy the Law but to fulfil it and to perfect it. Across the history of mankind, these three elements of the moral law have coalesced to shape our understanding of our relationship to God and our pathway to holiness.

In his address to the German bishops, Pope Benedict drew attention to the secularization of the western world and to the encounter between secular values and Christian values. Even as we dialogue with the secular world, and for that matter also with the Muslim world, Christians should enter the engagement with a spirit of hope and conviction in the arguments that they can advance in the defence of their Faith.

On many occasions, Pope Benedict XVI called for rational discourse on any subject that engages the mind of human beings. In particular, he has commented on the need to recognize that in the field of morality there exists a hierarchy of values that should operate in any human society, that without a right to life there can be no true justice, without a proper concept of marriage there can be no family structure that perpetuates the human race and protects the upbringing of new generations and trust between spouses, that without honesty and integrity there can be no true justice, that compassion can be a distortion of justice, and that science cannot be the arbiter of ethical behaviour.

The task facing the western world is monumental. Many of its leaders are hostile to the morality articulated by Christ and the Church that He founded. The academic world, the world of art and fashion, the world of advertising and sensational journalism, all are pervaded by the philosophy of the postmodern era which rejects objective morality and is preoccupied by autonomous rights and a belief in the exercise of a rampant and undisciplined conscience.

The prevailing philosophy is known as Relativism which is subjectively driven. In an introduction to a recent book entitled: In the Light of Christ: Writings in the Western Tradition, Lucy Becket describes relativism in the following way.

“In the intellectual climate of the liberal west in our time, the very words “truth,” “beauty.” and “goodness,” cannot be used without embarrassment except in relation not to God but to the individual, who, in a biological accident in a random universe, chooses what seems, for the moment, to be true or good or beautiful to himself. That individual may defend such choices, but on personal, subjective grounds only; the one remaining moral imperative commanding general assent is that the choices of others must have equal status to one’s own and should not be regarded as bad unless they do harm to others, measurable in a utilitarian fashion. Anyone may try to persuade others that his view, his perspective, is “better” than theirs, but this effort will be no more than a game, a power game, played in emptiness. Nietzsche, who presides over the contemporary academy, towards the end of the nineteenth century called “perspective” the basic condition of all life and the “will to power” the basic drive of the human world …………The only intellectual consensus is that there is no consensus.”

Then Pope Benedict asks the question : What should we do? His reply is not only illuminating but thought provoking:
“I hold that the first thing to do is…..what St. Paul cries to us in God’s Name: “Your attitude must be Christ’s.” Learn to think as Christ thought, learn to think with Him! And this thinking is not only the thinking of the mind, but also a thinking of the heart.”

It is in this way that we capture the joy of God’s word in our hearts and in our minds, that “we know Him in the face of Jesus Christ who suffered for us.” What the Pope is saying is that we need to turn our attention to the redemptive love of Christ, that He moves into centre stage, that our focus shifts from ourselves to a divine revelation in the person of Christ. We need to know Him from the evidence of His existence on earth, from the gospel accounts of His life, of His sayings and of His deeds. We need to become aware that He speaks with the authority of God Himself, that His passion and death reveal the depth of Divine redemptive love. By bringing Christ into the centre of our thoughts, we begin to understand that there is a Being who is concerned about us and the way we should behave towards one another and towards the One who created us.

The more that any society operates under these values, the more does that society achieve true peace; with respect forhuman life and concern for our neighbour, the more can be achieved to relieve suffering and to protect and care for the disabled; the more that we honour the virtue of justice, the less will discrimination be tolerated. The message begins with Christ who asks us to transmit His message internally within ourselves and horizontally to all mankind throughout His creation.

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